Despite Hurricane Earl’s projected path, which could see the Category 3 storm lashing some parts of the Rhode Island coast with tropical storm force winds by late Friday, Fr. Joseph Protano Jr. is undeterred in his mission as the pastor of the only Catholic Church on Block Island.
“We’re going to stay here, and whatever comes, comes. We can’t abandon the island, that’s for sure,” says Fr. Protano, pastor of St. Andrew Church, from his perch in the church’s rectory, which is located high above the harbor about two blocks away.
The parish’s Saturday night and Sunday Masses are still scheduled for this weekend, as is the Saturday afternoon wedding of a couple from the mainland that Fr. Protano will officiate.
“They called me today to say, ‘We’re here!’” Fr. Protano said of the arrival of the bride and groom.
Transport ferries to the island meanwhile were taking most visitors in the opposite direction as the hurricane, packing 125 mph winds, approached Cape Hatteras, N.C. to the south, before an anticipated turn to the northeast toward New England later this evening.
The parish, which doubles in size to 2,000 parishioners in summer, has a committee in place that goes into action battening down the hatches when weather conditions get rough.
“We take in our deck furniture, make sure the upper transepts of the church are locked. It’s our normal routine for a storm. They automatically go into gear when something like this happens,” the pastor said.
The island has seen its share of powerful storms through the years, including a nor’easter that heralded Fr. Protano’s arrival as pastor here seven years ago.
“My first year, a couple of my classmates came out on Monday to visit, and they were not able to leave until Saturday morning,” the pastor remembers, noting how the guests were only planning to spend one night on the island.
Fr. Protano is taking the coming storm in stride.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that dramatic myself,” he said.
Printed with permission from Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.